Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I
The Intriguing Choice of Mathias as the 13th Apostle
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
In today’s 1st reading, we are presented with the event that led to the choice of the 13th Apostle. Yes, you heard me well, the 13th Apostle. Despite what we are told about Judas Iscariot, he certainly remains one of the 12 Jesus chose himself. And even though he betrayed him, no one could take away that choice that Christ made at the beginning of his public ministry.
The event occurred shortly after Christ was said to have been taken up to heaven. The moment was spectacular. The author of Acts of the Apostles placed the incident at the beginning of this second Gospel of Luke. He started by summarizing the first Gospel of Luke through a perfect presentation of the Christ event as recorded in this supposed first book.
And once he established the fact of Christ’s life, death and resurrection (Acts. 1:1–5), he passed on to the next stage by linking the Jewish Christ to this universal saviour that his non-homogenous community (Jew and gentiles) believe in.
What is intriguing is how the author explains the fact that the community preceding his – probably the early Jewish Christians – were still expecting a warrior king in the likeness of David.
“Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
After this point, the author takes us to the end of Christ’s physical presence on earth by introducing the miraculous elevation of Christ (he was taken up) to heaven. I still wonder if ascension should be the right word if “he was taken up”, and not him moving up. Let me simply assume that the confusion might be linked to the problem of translation.
In Acts 1:10, the author complicates it more when the two supposed men after enquiring why they were there, proclaimed:
“this same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven”.
Their idea, that Christ will come back in the same way the Apostles saw him go into heaven, was a sign that the community of the author believed in the immediate return of Christ. I am forced to doubt if he would have made the same statement if he had the third Gospel.
Coming back to the choice of the 13th Apostle, one can simply imagine that the author wanted to introduce a new reality to his community. Two candidates were presented. Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus), and Mathias. Does the first name ring bell in your ear? Barsabbas, in Hebrew, is the son of the Sabbath or rest. Going back to the trial of Christ, we meet Barabbas – the son of the father (Abba father – God). In Christ’s trial, the Son of the father, Barabbas was let go, and Christ, the Son of Man (in Matthean's words) was condemned.
Here the Son of the Sabbath also known as the just – Justus was not chosen, rather Mathias, the gift of God was chosen. If this community is no longer bound by their Jewish origin, would it surprise anyone that the Son of the Sabbath was not chosen even when we are told he is a just man? Would it be a coincidence that this community waiting for the gift the father will offer them (the Holy Spirit) would be completed by Mathias – the gift of God?
At this point, the author introduces a Church 2.0 where the successors of Christ could legitimately choose a man (a woman - 3.0) with little Jewish attributes to be an Apostle. The new community was no longer bound by the Jewish laws, and heritage as the gift of the father was more important than the son of the Sabbath.